Is McCarthy a lame-duck speaker already?

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., reacts after losing the 14th vote in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Is McCarthy a lame-duck speaker already?

Sarah Westwood

January 07, 12:43 PM January 07, 12:45 PM

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With House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) finally in possession of the speaker’s gavel after a grueling four days of voting, he and his allies are likely celebrating a hard-fought victory.

But that celebration may not last long.

More than a dozen GOP holdouts extracted concessions from McCarthy over days of negotiating that undercut the incoming speaker’s power, from limiting his ability to dole out plum committee posts to increasing the chances of future showdowns over spending that he will have little ability to control.


Managing a slim, four-seat majority was already set to be a challenging task for McCarthy under the rules proposal he wanted.

Now, the demands of McCarthy’s opponents have sent the divided GOP conference in an uncertain direction, at a time when the party is searching for its new identity ahead of the next presidential election.

“I think that the rules and personnel changes to the House that we’ve been talking about will do a lot to democratize power to the membership and will allow us a far stronger position as a House,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told CNN on Friday, adding that McCarthy has put himself in a “straitjacket” to win the gavel.

McCarthy agreed to a number of changes that have the potential to make his life as speaker difficult.

After resisting for weeks a demand to bring back the motion to vacate, which allows any member to call for a vote of no confidence in the speaker, McCarthy agreed to reinstate the rule with a threshold of just one lawmaker rather than the five-member threshold he had offered earlier in the negotiating process.

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Conservatives reportedly won a pledge from McCarthy to place three of their own members on the powerful House Rules Committee, which determines what bills come to the floor for consideration and when.

Raising the national debt limit could become far more contentious in the future under McCarthy’s deal, as holdouts demanded the right to decline to support raising the debt ceiling without accompanying spending cuts.

Congress has to confront the debt ceiling later this year.

On spending, McCarthy made a largely symbolic promise to support a budget process that would balance the federal books over the next decade.

The Democratic-controlled Senate and White House are virtually guaranteed to reject any appropriations bills that come out of such a process, and even some centrist Republicans have bristled at the idea of slashing defense spending to meet the goals laid out by McCarthy’s critics.

For two months leading up to the speaker fight, members of the House Freedom Caucus had demanded these and other changes in exchange for their support.

But McCarthy had resisted offering any substantive proposals to appease them until he began bleeding support on successive rounds of voting.

His victory elevates the Freedom Caucus to new heights of power, ensuring its members flex their conservative muscles in future spending fights and legislative battles despite the slim chance of any of their bills becoming law until after 2024.

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